Image Courtesy of Marvel.com
Spoilers: Keep in mind that my method of reviewing involves spoilers for purposes of analysis. If you care about being spoiled and have not read Spider-Gwen #2 yet, please avoid this review until you do!!
Let me tell you a story about the first time I read this issue of Spider-Gwen. I had gotten Spider-Gwen #2 and Amazing Spider-Man #16 the same day (they came out the same day). I read Spider-Gwen first (as usual, because it’s the book I am consistently most excited about), and after reading ASM afterwards, I determined that they were essentially the same book. They were both about how a hero balances heroing with his or her secret identity life, and the importance of not being a super hero ALL the time. This is one of the core themes of Spider-Man as a character, and it always has been. He was always the super hero who had to deal with real life problems. Upon reading both of these books a second time, though, I realize that while they do both heavily deal with that issue, they really aren’t the same book. The ultimate outcome of that conflict is actually very different, and more is happening in both of them than I realized the first time around.
Let’s talk about what is going on in Spider-Gwen. The thrust of this issue is Gwen Stacy dealing with a failure as Spider-Woman against the Vulture, and her continued trajectory of pushing away everyone close to her as Gwen Stacy in order to throw herself more and more into being Spider-Woman. This personal conflict is facilitated by the addition of Peter Porker, the Sporktacular Spider-Ham as a concussion induced hallucination, who doubles as the primary source of humor this issue (Mary Jane says some funny stuff, but for the most part it’s all the Ham). This is okay, mind you. I mentioned in my review for Spider-Gwen #1 that thematically this title deals with a lot of dark things, and sometimes you have to have issues that are on the more tragic side. So it was a good move on the part of the Spider-Gwen team to put in something to balance that out.
Spider-Ham is that balance, and he’s strangely good at providing both ridiculousness and heart-warming sentiment. He’s like the Rocket Raccoon of the Spider-Verse: mixing off-the-wall comedy lines like “Puking in the Hudson river from a garbage boat… That’s a powerful New York move, Gwenzelle” with sage advice like “Because being a super hero is way more than facing bad guys, Gwensday… Sometimes, you gotta face REAL LIFE.” In a sense, the Gwen half of this comic is a complete character development arc. Gwen deciding that her failure to take down the Vulture meant she failed at being a super hero all together and she could not go back to having a life until that failure was rectified, then spiraling down into a drunken stupor, and finally realizing that she did need some connection to the real world and coming around again to reconnect with her dad, all completely contained in one comic (really only half a comic, but I’ll get to that in a second). The important thing to understand, though, is that this ending puts Gwen and Peter on different routes through very similar personal struggles in their respective titles. For Peter, who has already dealt with the whole “You can’t be Spider-Man all the time. Peter Parker needs a life, too” thing, his new challenge seems to be making his two lives work towards the same goal. For Gwen, though, it’s almost the opposite. She learns that she needs a real life that is separate from her life as Spider-Woman in order to make both lives bearable (or, at least, she starts to learn that). The self-contained emotional arc works well enough. I feel like it’s pretty rushed, but Latour and company seem to be trying to speed along all of Gwen’s angsty beginnings to get to her being a more polished hero (sort of like a Greatest Hits of Spider-Angst), and I do appreciate them actually making it a process rather than her being instantly “amazing,” which would have been the easier route here.
Part of what makes this issue feel rushed, though, is the fact that, as I just said, Gwen is really only half of the comic this month. The other half is focused on her dad, George Stacy, working with Frank Castle (The Punisher for those of you who don’t know. Or, at least, he’s The Punisher on Earth 616. It’s unclear if he is still The Punisher here) to figure out what the Kingpin knows about Spider-Woman, while still trying to protect Gwen. This has some informative moments; apparently, in this world, Matt Murdock is not only Kingpin’s lawyer, he’s also some of Kingpin’s super human muscle. While, I am intrigued by the look we get into the workings of the rest of Earth-65, and I’m sure they will be relevant later when Spider-Woman needs to face down evil Daredevil or whatever, I feel like more of this book should have been more devoted to Gwen, since it is still only the second issue. Still, this was a good read, and I really enjoyed seeing Gwen develop as a character in this issue. It’s always really risky to write an issue of a super hero comic with no fighting in it, and this time the risk mostly paid off. We needed to see Gwen grow-up both as a super hero and a person, and we did. I just wish we saw more of it.